What the Heck is Really Going on in Marathon?

To read the papers, the sewer issues in Marathon look pretty grim.  The city has selected a new in-house attorney who seems very qualified.  The list of candidates for city manager has been narrowed down to five.  Again all seem experienced and well qualified.  Whoever the new city manager is, he or she will need to have a strong background in utility management.  I went to FDEP’s Oculus database in an attempt to figure out what’s going on with Marathon’s wastewater system.

It’s clear, when I start looking through the documents things don’t just look grim, they are grim.  Very grim.  My earlier post might have been a wee bit optimistic.  I still think Marathon will get through this but not without a huge shake-up.

The first document I found is a letter from the FDEP to the City about violations at three of the five wastewater treatment plants:  Area 3, Area 4, and Area 5.  I won’t run through all the violations because there are a lot.  I’ll provide the document so you can read it for yourself.  Wow.

The second document I found is a letter from an employee and was signed “Job Scared”.  I’ve seen plenty of accusatory letters from disgruntled employees before.  It comes with the territory.  What’s unique about this one is that “Job Scared” is still an employee.  This is not someone who’s trying to get in a few licks on the way out.  In fact, the employee is writing the letter despite being afraid of losing his or her job for doing so.

So let’s see what “Job Scared” has to say.

On multiple occasions the charts and graphs that show flows and process numbers were copy/pasted from a previous month to hide problems in the process.

The “good news” is that the city can check up on this.  They can hire a third-party to  periodically take samples and gather readings.  That third-party should communicate directly with the City Manager.  The Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District has done this once or twice.  Falsifying data is a very serious accusation.  It’s a dishonest thing to do, of course.  But there’s a practical element, too.  If staff is covering up issues instead of getting to the root cause and resolving them you wind up with a mess.  So it’s definitely worth checking out reports of falsifying data.

Earlier this year, we had a pretty big spill at SA6 plant that we were told to clean up as best we could and cover it up with clean stone.

There’s no way to verify this except to interview the employees individually.  And those employee’s need to know that they can tell the truth without repercussions.  There might be a note from that day in the operator’s log.  The Area 6 plant was not mentioned in FDEP’s warning letter.  So the problems might be even more wide-spread than suspected.

In a recent report to council, Zully highlights high nitrates at the SA3 WWTP. In the next paragraph, she says the operator just needs to turn up the air to deal with the super high loading on the plant. I am not sure if she is intentionally lying to you here or if this is just another example of her ignorance of wastewater treatment operation. One of the first things you learn about process control is that an increase in air will result in an increase in nitrate. That is why the last two contract operators had reported multiple times that the loading was too high to adequately treat.

Typically nitrogen enters the plant in the form of ammonia.  During the treatment process, influent nitrogen changes form from ammonia to nitrate to nitrite and finally to nitrogen gas.  The conditions in the treatment unit alternate between aerobic and anoxic.  The process has to be managed properly in order to obtain the intended result.  Fortunately, the city has a lot of resources right there in the Keys.  They’ve already spoken with the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority.  They might try reaching out to the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District as well.  Both entities have been operating SBRs for years.  The more advice Marathon can get, the better.

She has told you that the salinity is way lower than it is. It has not dropped significantly as she has told you.

This is an easy one to check with third-party sampling.  High salinity, of course, indicates a problem in the collection system.

We have a job posting for operators that says applicants MUST have a drivers license and MUST pass a criminal background check. Yet we hired two felons on parole, one can never have a drivers license and the other one is violent and confrontational. If on parole, you can’t say he has served his debt because he HAS
NOT. Seriously, how do you ever serve your debt for murdering two police officers? US Water was going to fire him but lost the contract so ST ended up with him. ST found him doing illegal stuff at the plant on top of sexual harassment of female employee and let him go. We hired him and he has already been caught red handed violating state law doing the very thing Severn Trent warned us he would do. DEP catches him again he will lose his license and we will get hefty fines which the city has to pay and he may go back to prison because it is criminal act.
He is belligerent and out of control at work. He never stays at his plant, we would be surprised if he is actually there 3 hours a day (FDEP requires 6 hours a day, we required ST to be there 9 hours a day). Since he is not held accountable for anything, we will never know.

A lot of wastewater treatment operators are licensed in prison.  It is very, very common.  Before the Great Recession, it was really hard to find an operator who was licensed outside the prison system.  Most of these guys just want to stay out of trouble and get on with their lives.  They’re doing a job few people want to do.  That’s the reality.  Some will be good employees and some won’t – just like people in general.  But it sounds like the issues with one of the operators goes beyond simply having a prison record.

An audit would show that Zully has spent probably hundreds of thousands of dollars of the City’s money on privately owned systems. She constantly complained about how much money US Water charged for overtime but a lot of it was her directing them to work on private systems. One of the most common would be Galway Bay. She would panic and beg US Water to do what ever it takes to keep the Galway buffer pits from overflowing. When Severn Trent told her they would not take the liability of working on private systems without contract, Zully got very angry. She then paid WRT to go out and do work in Galway Bay private lift stations, creating issues in the collection system and probably sending sewage out with the tide. WHY ARE MY TAX DOLLARS GOING TO PAY FOR A PRlVATE BUSINESS TO BE ABLE TO FUNCTION?????????????

Good question.  It’s hard to verify this one, but I did find two incident reports on OCULUS that mention problems at Galway Bay.  In general, issues with I&I (inflow and infiltration) – ie. stormwater and/or groundwater entering the system – can seriously affect the collection system and the treatment plant.  It can water log a vacuum collection system causing back-ups.  It can cause a spill at the plant.  High salinity makes reclaimed water unusable and corrodes equipment.  I&I is a constant battle and something a wastewater utility should be constantly monitoring.

Below are links to the documents I downloaded from OCULUS.  If you want to see where I got them exactly, please leave a comment or email me at therealpoop.org@gmail[dot]com.

City of Marathon Areas 3, 4, and 5 Warning Letter Issued 7-13-15


Marathon Area 3 Abnormal Event Rpt Rcvd 9-19-14_GalwayBay

Area 3 Abnormal Event Report Rcvd 11-24-14_spill_GalwayBay

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